schrit_tmacher justDANCE! opened in Aachen
Trying to outsmart technology
For the opening of this year’s schrit_tmacher edition in Aachen the Alexander Whitley Company blinds the audience with an abundance of ideas, precisely an “Overflow“
nightreview by Rico Stehfest
translated by Karoline Strys
One thing is certain: British choreographer Alexander Whitley has no shortage of ideas. Since 2014, he and his company have been working with symbiotic approaches somewhere in between contemporary movement vocabulary and digital approaches. At Fabrik Stahlbau Strang he plays with countless impressive light spaces, sending five of his dancers impressively through these spaces to let them act out in a loose sequence of solos, duets and group scenes what the technical advances of digital communication channels and Big Data have made of us by now.
It quickly becomes clear that there does not seem to be much left of a free will. Technology has overtaken us. This can be unmistakably seen in a kinetic light sculpture, which, as delicate as it is a slender, clear line above the heads of the ensemble, weightless and mute in elegant reduction, it appears as the real protagonist of the whole thing. No matter how hard the dancers struggle, they remain accessories, no matter how amazingly they are staged between theses lighting alleys. They disappear again and again in the darkness of an altogether diffuse space; their black costumes do the rest. It is only the arms and shoulders that repeatedly appear below the heads. Accordingly, at least in terms of visual effects, the choreography concentrates on this upper area of the bodies. It is in the nature of things that the organic forms of the dancers‘ bodies function as a clear contrast to the geometric linearity of the light spaces but they do not reach their massiveness and size. And all the while, the eye remains glued to this silent strip of light which can be rotated arbitrarily out of the horizontal, without any visible resistance, all the way to the vertical, visually fragmented into flickering fragments. Or how about a bit of warm, soft atmosphere in sepia?
Everything is pre-programmed and available with one click. And beneath a pretty, soulful duo. No dancer can compete with that. It is questionable whether the choreography itself actually wants to stand up to it? Superimposed fragments of speech stumble out of the boxes, mass stands for arbitrariness. The „overflow“ is lucid. The formal language can do something that technology cannot: Organics, curves, waves. In the mutual layering images emerge that are deceptive at closer look. They wish to be more than they actually are. Here a duplication occurs: if the contextual questioning for content, if not for meaning, takes place, yet is achieved by means that are mere surface and as such blind, it is questionable whether this attempt of „outsmarting“ can succeed. AI is not smarter than humans but it is cleverer. Where Akram Khan speaks of „outwitting the Devil“, Whitley’s reflections can be understood as an attempt of „outsmarting technology.“ There are technical approaches to fight noise with noise. But our mental emptiness, the rampant absence of a differentiated critical use of technology in everyday life, cannot be fought with emptiness. Whitley tries anyway and adds another scene and yet another and another. The user swallows what the algorithm has already chewed up for him.
With all the bombast it could almost be overlooked that Whitley oscillates choreographically indecisively between abstract and downright concrete movement designs which in their totality hardly reveal a face of their own. Perhaps, to be understood as a gesture, he throws in the internal towel: eventually the dancers lie lifeless on the floor, the light sculpture is only a single searching light that carefully probes the floor emotionless and cold but nevertheless almost appears like a living being. Humankind is not only under the radar but under the scanner. Unfortunately this makes the technology more exciting than the human being. It remains questionable why the applause in the end was that enthusiastic.